c/o imdb.com

c/o imdb.com

Luca Guadagninos “Call Me By Your Name” is a romance film about the love between a 17-year-old boy, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), and a 24-year-old graduate student, Oliver (Armie Hammer), who is hired as an intern at the northern Italian villa where Elio and his parents spend the summer. Thus far, the film has received some eye-popping reviews: Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called it a ravishment of the senses.Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times affirmed its status as a new coming-of-age classic.Perhaps most affirming is the headline published by Vulture: Call Me by Your Name Is a Masterpiece. In a world awash with throwaway Hollywood blockbusters and mediocre Oscar winners, Guadagninos film lives up to the hype—for the most part.

The movie, an adaptation of Andre Acimans novel of the same name, is a pastoral, set on a centuries-old villa in the northern Italian countryside. Its earliest moments prime a languorous, recollective quality when the words, summer 1983, somewhere in northern Italy flash onto the screen in lazy cursive. But rather than wallow in hazy nostalgia, cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeproms camera fixates on enlivening details. Rarely has a movie evoked a breezy summer afternoon, or any atmosphere, for that matter, so convincingly. A sensuous immediacy permeates every close-up and every sound, rendering the film a joy to watch and hear.

Chalamet and Hammer deliver expert, complementary performances. The physically imposing Hammer makes brisk, arrogant movements, gluttonously slurping down egg yolks and apricot juice. Hammer usually exits these scenes with an abrupt “later.The camera tends to approach him from below, treating him as though he were one of the Greek sculptures that Elios father spends his time studying.

Chalamet, on the other hand, grows into his character, Elio, building layers of teenage anxiety and restlessness through smirks, half-smiles, and disarming moments of sincerity that culminate, along with the film itself, in two shots. In the first, Elio cries in the passenger seat of his mothers car as she drives him home from seeing Oliver for the last time. Then, in the second, the final shot of the movie, he watches a fire burn in the dining room fireplace and cries, letting himself feel the sorrow and desperation of young love lost. Both of these expressions communicate more emotion than most dialogue could, although James Ivory, who wrote the films measured script, might disagree. Ivory shines among the movies many talented contributors, particularly in a beautiful monologue from Elios father (a brilliant Michael Stuhlbarg).

Apart from its emotionally rich finale, the film lingers in the placid realm of youthful, carefree summers and lighthearted romances, particularly during its first half, in which scenes rely more on sexual tension than actual conflict to advance the story. However, in a movie about queer love, this is welcome and almost jarring in its contrast to many movies that only star gay characters as exceptional heroes, dying of diseases, or getting beaten up. Elio and Oliver are just two people in love. Why should we expect them to be anything more?

Some of the films choices dont stand up to inspection as easily, such as the socioeconomic status of its main characters. Elio and his parents spend their holidays in a beautiful and tastefully decorated, high-ceilinged villa, equipped with a full-time chef and a groundskeeper. Elios father is a professor of classics, his mother a translator, placing them firmly as intellectual and economic elites. Why? Did Guadagnino choose this setting purely for its aesthetic beauty? Did he make his characters rich only because he wanted to shoot his movie in a beautiful house? Elios parents, in the end, prove to be accepting of their sons sexuality and his relationship with their employee, providing a startling open-mindedness, especially given the stigma of the time period. We have little choice but to infer that less intellectually elite people would not have been so accepting of their gay son, a position that implicitly vilifies lower social classes and glorifies more elite ones.

The film approaches the subject of politics asymptotically, without ever fully engaging it. Twice, in a panning shot of a town square, the camera hovers in front of posters tacked onto the walls urging citizens to vote for the Italian Communist Party and the Socialist Party. In another scene, two friends of Elios parents argue about politics over lunch, but the conversation is cut short when Elio gets a nosebleed. These out-of-place details in a film so unconcerned with the world outside of its idyllic setting suggest a sense of guilt on the part of the filmmaker toward his disengagement and portrayal of rich people as those most capable of goodness.

It’s also wholly unclear why the film was set in Italy, as none of the central characters speak much Italian, and the film does not explore issues specific to Italy. Despite the fact that the director is Italian, the film would not be at all altered if it were set in another country. Here, we see a film that follows in the footsteps of big-screen features like “Roman Holiday” and “Eat, Pray, Love” in exploiting Italys natural and human-made beauty, setting it as a playground for these wealthy characters without taking the time to engage with the nuances of the country and its people.

Still, these faults are small missteps in a movie that otherwise features virtuosic direction from Guadagnino and brilliant performances from its cast. The humanity that soars from its details—from its charactersgestures, sighs, and tears—is undeniable and hard not to love.

Matteo Heilbrun can be reached at mheilbrun@wesleyan.edu. 

  • creepingdoubt

    The novel on which the script is based was set in Italy, so that was not Guadagnino’s choice. The script informs us that Elio’s mother inherited the large, lovely villa, which suggests simply that Elio’s father, the professor, married a wealthy woman. None of this distracts from the meaning of the unfolding love story, which (at least what we see of it) has little bearing on class struggle. And the same would be true if the story took place in Poland or France or Greece. Pick a country. It’s the passionate, secret love that we see blossoming between these two young men that gets under our skins, I think because no matter our personal or political background, we can see ourselves in their confusion, pain and joy. I’m very pleased that Mr. Heilbrun was caught up in and appreciated the deep truths of this beautifully filmed and acted story, one unabashedly featuring tenderness between men, a phenomenon that I think we need to see more of on screen. The fine novel by Andre Aciman that it’s based on is also extraordinary, and I hope the movie will cause more people to read it.